Forgotten Films: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

The Brain That Wouldn't Die: It's bad but not Plan 9 bad.

By Scott A . Cupp

This is the 144th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Sandi and I did our usual thing of having some old friends over then we went down to the Riverwalk and did the Thanksgiving buffet at the Hilton Palacio del Rio. Great food, great company and conversation, and some not-so-great football afterwards.

As we were doing all of this, I was reminded of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 Thanksgiving Turkey marathons and remembered that I had this lovely film queued up on my DVR. Somehow when the MST3K folks showed this, I always ended up missing it, so I went in unsullied.

I got this off of Turner Classic Movies (the wonderful TCM, perhaps the greatest channel on cable). Ben Mankiewicz, one of the TCM hosts, did an introduction where he mentioned that some films are just so bad that they can achieve cult status. This is one of them.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers, though he was billed as Herb Evers) is a brilliant but flawed surgeon. He is assisting his father (Bruce Brighton) when the patient died. After his father gives up, Bill asks to try something on him and manages to bring the corpse back to life. Bill has been doing some experimentation on transplanting human tissue, though not through normal research channels. The hospital has been missing parts and pieces from the morgue and the elder Dr. Cortner feels that Bill has probably been committing the thefts.

Bill receives a message that there is a problem at his mountain cottage. He decides that he needs to go there and takes his lovely fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) with him. On the way, after a truly boring series of moving vehicle and traffic sign shots, there is an accident. Bill is thrown from his convertible. Dazed he returns to the burning car and finds Jan has been decapitated. He wraps the head up in his jacket and walks/staggers some distance (probably miles) to his cabin where he hooks the head up to a contraption.

He is helped with the head installation by Kurt (Anthony LaPenna, billed as Leslie Daniels. I guess nobody wanted to use their real name…). Jan wakes up and finds she is a disembodied head, sitting in a pan of liquid. She must have suffered some brain damage from oxygen deprivation during the period when she was being transported to the cabin because she just wants to die.

Bill wants to transplant her head onto a new beautiful body, because he wants a beautiful wife. So, obviously, this means going to strip clubs to find a woman he can then kill and transplant Jan’s head onto it. So we get several scenes of Bill talking up strippers, trying to determine who he can kill without anyone recognizing him or remembering him as the last one being with them.

He gets talked into judging a bathing suit contest where one of the strippers reminds him of Doris Powell (Anne Lamont) who is now only working as a photo club model who keep a portion of her face covered to hide a disfiguring scar. Great body and scarred face = potential murder victim.

Jan, meanwhile, has been talking to something — the thing that Bill and Kurt have previously experimented on — and is being held captive in a locked closet. Jan wants nothing to do with the murder/transplant and is communicating with the closet thing. As you might expect, things do not go as planned and Bill, the mad scientist, does not accomplish his murder.

The dialogue gets pretty florid or awful or both. The story was developed by Joseph Green (the director and screenplay author) and Rex Carlton (the producer). Special effects are pretty weak. The strippers are pretty. The film was originally shot under the title The Black Door according to IMDB. According to Ben Mankiewicz in his intro to the film, the original release title was going to be The Head That Wouldn’t Die and that this was not changed on some of the end credits.

The version TCM showed ran just under 70 minutes. Apparently the original release was 82 minutes which included a great deal of gore not shown in the film I saw.

It’s a bad film – maybe not Manos or Plan 9 bad, but still not good. So I’m glad I got to see it and without the MST3K dialogue, though I would like to see that now. Well, maybe not now, but sometime.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.